Red Gate Alpaca Farm


For me, summer means jumping in my car and learning more about my immediate surroundings. I want to find hidden gems that are in my backyard and can be enjoyed during a day trip. This is what led me to an alpaca farm in Dundas, MN.

Contrary to popular belief, alpacas and llamas are not the same animal. It’s like saying St. Paul and Minneapolis are the same thing. Teri & Kraig Quamme set me straight during my visit to the Red Gate Alpaca Farm (RGAF).

An alpaca is a hybrid between a llama and a vicuña, two camelid species native to the Andes Mountains in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile. Alpacas were never wild but rather were created by the Incans about 6,000 years ago as a source of fiber for royal clothing. Alpacas have been used by humans for transportation and fleece production for thousands of years.

The most notable difference is the actual size of the animals. Alpacas are much smaller than llamas (approximately #150 vs. #400) and llamas tend to be more comfortable interacting with humans. Alpacas, though cuddly looking, are more aloof. "Alpacas are more like cats, while llamas are more like dogs," says Cindi Hassrick, founder of Aurora Alpaca and Llama Farm.

Alpacas are mild tempered creatures who thrive in a herd environment. The first thing everyone asks about is the tendency for the animals to spit. With alpacas, spitting is generally observed between herd-mates to assert dominance and is rarely done towards humans unless they’re provoked. Llamas have a slightly more aggressive nature and have been known to spit at the casual passer-by. Alpacas display affection by gently bringing their noses to you and they may briefly kiss or nuzzle certain people.

“I have always loved animals…probably to a fault” said Kraig when I asked him how he and his wife got into this field back in 2005. Teri fell in love with the whimsical creatures the minute she saw them and was interested in raising livestock that you don’t eat. Kraig spent 2 years researching and thinking about genetics before making the big decision to start raising the animals on their secluded farmland.

RGAF brought in genetics from the East and West coasts, the middle of the country as well as Wisconsin. Kraig knew that if there were other farms in their proximity, they could do some cross-breeding and have different genetics to distinguish themselves. Genetics include things like fiber quality, fineness of fleece, volume of fleece, etc. Each year RGAF strives to improve on fiber qualities to benefit their flock as well as their standing in the national alpaca network.

There is only one species of alpaca - but two fleece types, often referred to as breeds. They are huacaya (pronounced wah-KI’-ya) and suri (pronounced surrey). The huacaya fleece is commonly described as looking like a “teddy bear” and the suri fleece as looking like “dreadlocks.” The fiber of the suri alpaca is rarer and more highly prized than that of the huacaya. Suri fleece is soft as cashmere, warmer than wool and has the luster of silk.

All 75 members of the RGAF flock are suris and range in hue from white to jet black. Light rose grey is the rarest color and accounts for only 1% of registered animals in the Alpaca Owners Association (AOA). I met Boreus and his sister, Aurora, who both had this gorgeous unusual coloring. Alpacas are very intelligent animals. They’re amazingly alert and easily trained to halter and lead. They constantly communicate with each other through body posture, tail and ear movements as well as a variety of sounds.

Alpacas are herbivores meaning they only eat vegetation. Some of their favorite treats include carrots, apples, broccoli stalks, and turnips. The average lifespan is 15 to 20 years. The females will spend most of their life pregnant starting at age 2-3. An average pregnancy can last 11-12 months although RGAF had one female that went an amazing 373 days before giving birth.

The babies (aka cria) stay with mom for about 6 months to nurse. A healthy female can be rebred within 21 days of giving birth. Teri mentioned the animals like being pregnant and really enjoy being moms. “They can take one sniff and know immediately which cria belongs to them,” said Teri. Kraig said they also see color which helps the young animals identify their mom in the midst of a large herd.

When discussing alpacas as a business, there are several different ways they produce income. Using the animals as breeding stock brings in different fees depending on the rarity. I met SW (Secret Weapon) who had produced (40) champion offspring and had a stud fee of $2,500.

Yet another valuable business component is alpaca compost which is commonly referred to as “Black Gold.” One of the unusual things about alpacas is that they fully utilize their food within 50 hours of eating. This results in manure pellets that have very little odor and are able to be placed directly on and around even the most delicate plants. Alpaca compost is lower in organic matter than the manure of most other livestock such as cows, horses, goats & sheep, yet it’s perfect enough to improve soil texture and water holding capacities. It has the added benefit of not needing to be composted (aged or cured) prior to using and doesn’t carry the salmonella bacteria. It’s also an effective deer repellent, yet almost odorless to humans.

The third income source is the actual fiber of the animal. Teri is the one in charge of selling this end product. Llamas and alpacas are both used for fiber production, but the alpaca is the true champ in this area. Alpacas sport an incredibly soft fleece that is highly prized for being strong, yet surprisingly lightweight and warm. Some crafty people like to purchase it “right off the animal” as they prefer to clean and card it themselves, basically doing the whole process. Some fiber from RGAF gets sent out in bulk to be made into yarn and samples of final products are sold in their on-site store.

The animals are also shown at alpaca shows and compete with farms from all over the United States. A big farm might have hundreds of alpacas and a huge investment which could run up to $50,000 per animal. Teri and Kraig have a smaller herd but consider themselves lucky to compete at a high level due to the quality genetics and care they put into their animals.

Some of their competitors have big farms, bigger budgets and full-time staff. RGAF is a currently a part-time business for the Quammes, but as they head toward retirement, it will become full-time. Kraig spent years as a self-employed contractor and is currently a full-time Senior Project Manager for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. Teri spent years as a Surgical Assistant to a periodontist and then transitioned into her current position as an educational assistant in the Special Education program at Northfield High School.

“You can have the worst day at work and come out to the barn and get some love. That’s why we do it. That makes all the hard work worthwhile,” said Kraig.

When the animals are being shown, most judges are looking for 50% confirmation (straight legs, straight topline, and a balanced frame). They will check the bite, feel the tail and basically do a full body evaluation. The other 50% of the judging equation is concentrated on the fiber qualities of the animal (luster, lock structure, density, uniformity, and micron which is the diameter of the wool fiber).

For example, alpaca wool fiber is approximately 23.1 - 26.5 micron. Baby alpaca is about 14 - 23 micron and human hair is about 60 micron. The fiber diameter increases when the animals age. Baby alpaca is softer than regular alpaca and is often shorn from the “blanket” (back area). The most precious category of alpaca fiber is royal alpaca which is the finest and softest fiber the animal produces.

The fleece is left long when the animals are going to be shown which gives them their slightly quirky appearance. Alpacas should be sheared every year but generally, no bathing or brushing is required. They have long bangs covering their huge dark eyes and are usually accompanied by a wonky set of teeth protruding from their lower jaw.

Spring and summer become a busy time at the farm as it’s birthing season. This is a great time of year to visit. Alpacas find dealing with the summer heat and humidity challenging. They require at least 5 liters of water each per day. It goes without saying that they need to be sheared before the summer heat ramps up.

Suffice to say, I learned a lot only a few minutes from my own home. I was nuzzled by a girl named Sable and got the side-eye from a teenager named Ricco. These gentle animals were as curious about me as I was about them!

If you want to visit the farm, you just need to make an appointment. They welcome visitors and are soon to roll out an “Adopt an Alpaca Program.” So, if you’re interested in having an animal named after you, volunteering at the farm, or just supporting an interesting small business, give them a call!

Red Gate Alpaca Farm

11751 Dundas Blvd.

Dundas, MN 55019

(612) 919-6903